Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mandarin I ALESN Thursday, Dec 21, 2017 Last Class of the Year! Summary, Notes, Homework

Hi Everyone,

Hope that you all had a great Christmas! I will keep this brief because I need to get back to some work I am doing.


Last Thursday night's class covered the vocabulary and dialogue for Lesson 2 Dialogue 2: Asking About Someone's Family.
  • We discussed that JI3 can either be a question word asking How much or How Many?, or it can refer to "several" of some noun, using ji3 + measure word + noun. There was some confusion about this second usage, so I hope that I was able to clarify for anyone who might have been confused by the dual meanings of this new vocabulary word.
  • Kou3 as a measure word specifically for family members -- NOT for people in general. For people in general, we use GE. Kou3 literally means "mouth," and is used to count family members or members of the household as in, "mouths to feed."
  • LIANG3 when counting 2 of some noun, any noun. Liang3 + measure word + noun. There is a separate, different word for the concept of the number 2 when counting but not referring to how much of or how many of a certain noun. We will clarify this further in future classes. 
  • HE2 and for nouns: noun A HE2 noun B. HE2 is not used to connect verb phrases. I mentioned this in class, but the concept is a bit abstract until we see it in action in future dialogue or exercise examples in class.
  • DOU1 for both or all: it goes between the subject and the verb, as opposed to other places in the sentence. DO NOT confuse where this word goes in a Chinese sentence by thinking of English language word order. We will review this more in the new year.
  • Of course, there were other vocabulary word (17 in all, including a new proper name of a new character in the book), but I think these are the most important points to keep in mind.
From here, we repeated the dialogue multiple times. Esther was not in class to help us, and I know that a few students had specific questions about mouth shapes when saying certain syllables, so we definitely missed Esther demonstrating these for us.

I was very pleased to see that several of you are really taking the mouth and tongue placements/ alignments so seriously, which we began to learn during the pronunciation intro portion of the course 2 months ago. It really IS true that if you shape your mouth properly and make your tongue have the proper alignment inside your mouth, the "foreign" sounds of spoken Mandarin will become easier and easier, more and more natural as time goes on, until you will simply pronounce each syllable "properly," within that window of acceptability that we are always talking about in class. Many thanks to those students who are putting in a good effort to be aware of this when reciting the dialogues!


A little bit of study every day or every other day is all you need at this point in order to make progress in this class. You don't need to spend hours each day studying Chinese -- though if you do, you will certainly make a lot of progress; I can vouch for this first hand, because I obsessively studied Cantonese and Mandarin for at lest 1-2 hours a day 6-7 days a week for the first 2 years or so studying each language/dialect.

BUT, just a little bit each day or every other day is fine for right now -- as long as you do THE RIGHT STUDYING.

By this, I mean to focus on listening comprehension, on fixing whatever you personally cannot yet pronounce properly regarding the syllables and especially THE TONES, and to just have fun with it. 

20 minutes a day watching the videos that go with the book, which I asked you all to download for free over 2 months ago. 15 minutes a day making flashcards on index cards or on an app in your phone and then reviewing the textbook vocabulary words. 30 minutes a few times a week browsing Youtube for interesting "beginner Mandarin" videos about topics that personally interest you -- maybe food or shopping or visiting China or Taiwan.

Just enjoy the process and make it FUN!


 Your homework between now and our first class of 2018 is simply to review the vocabulary and dialogues covered so far, memorizing anything that you haven't already learned.

Work on any pronunciation or tones issues that YOU PERSONALLY have discovered you suck at. 

Make a list, an actual bullet point / itemized "shopping list" of each of the initial consonant, simple or compound final, or combined syllable pronunciation issues you have been experiencing, as well as any tones issues specific to you (you confuse or mix up your 1 and 4 tones, for example, which many if not most of you are doing right now, as mentioned by Jeremy 2 weeks ago). Make this list and keep it handy on your phone or by your desk or on a post it not in your textbook, so that there is never any guesswork regarding what you need to study or practice -- especially if you find yourself limited for time on a given day or during a given week.



Everything else can take a backseat for the moment, if you still haven't gotten your four tones, for example. If you still cannot say the ZH CH SH R line of the bo po mo fo table properly, then THAT is what you need to spend the most time working on -- not memorizing the Mandarin Chinese word for photograph, which you will grossly mispronounce whenever you try to say it because your ZH initial consonant sound is so horrible.

So, all of you, figure out what each of you most needs to work on and come to next class prepared with an itemized list. I want to go around the class and have some of you read from your lists, so that all of you can FEEL the comradery, knowing that you all share certain common things that everyone needs to most work on. To make it fair, I will prepare my own list for my own Chinese studies as well, and will be happy to share it with everyone if you are interested.


These videos will really help everyone to understand and memorize the dialogues going forward. It is one thing to read them in class, to translate them in class. It is an entirely different thing to see the dialogues acted out on your TV or computer screen (or phone or tablet).

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and see everyone in 2018!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cantonese I ALESN: Class Summary, Insights, Homework for Monday, December 18, 2017

First of all, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to my amazing students who decided to give me a very nice card and money gift at the end of this past Monday's class!!!

I have been so busy with other non-Chinese-related stuff these past few weeks that I have almost completely forgotten that this is the Holidays. Other than watching Hallmark Christmas romance movies in the background while working on my online stores at my home office, I have not really been in the festive spirit this year. It was wonderful and unexpected for everyone to give me such a nice gift, and I thank you all for your appreciation and Holiday wishes!!!

Again, many thanks!!!


This past Monday, after a brief review of the basic grammatical structure and syntax of a Cantonese sentence, we jumped back into the remaining substitution and expansion exercises for Lesson 2. I am running short on time this week, so this will be a shorter blog entry than normal for your class. Sorry and thanks!

Also, many thanks to our assistant teacher Allison, still recovering from a concussion but nevertheless eager to help out with pronouncing all of the examples this past class!!!

Here is what we covered:
  • Page 47 Response Drill 6: We ask if someone is or is not a certain nationality and we learn that in every case without exception, we were mistaken and the person is a different nationality than we had thought. This is a great question and answer sentence structure for any kind of question asking if someone or something is or is not some category of answer, and then responding that the subject is not; it is something different from what the questioner suspected.
  • Page 47 Conversation Exercise 7: For this one, you guys repeated Allison. Though of course it would have been better to work from the left side of the page, in the interest of time, you all repeated after Allison from the right side of the page. Please try to do this exercise from the left side of the page if you feel motivated to do so.
  • Page 48: Response Drill 8: In this exercise, we make a statement that someone has a certain last name, and then we negate that statement, correcting ourselves that the person has a different last name.
  • Page 48: Response Drill 9: Going from a GA3 question to the related GE3 answer. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT EXERCISE, DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE PRINCIPLE OF EQUIVALENCY AND PARALLEL STRUCTURE FOR QUESTIONS AND THEIR RESPONSES IN CANTONESE. Make sure that you memorize the syntax and principle involved here.
  • Page 49: Expansion Drill 10: Taking a statement that someone is something and elaborating that someone else is ALSO the same thing (nationality, etc.), using DOU1 (ALSO). Make sure you memorize the word order here -- where the dou1 goes in the sentence. It MUST come right after the subject, whereas in English it usually comes after the verb or at the beginning or end of the sentence.
  • Page 49: Conversation Exercise 11: Someone politely asks what your last name is and then you humbly respond that your last name is whatever -- and then the first person says hello to you in a formal way using your last name.
  • Page 50 Conversation Drill 12: Asking what your friend's last name is and then responding using the GE3 structure (He or she is "one of those [Wong, Chan, etc.] people).
  • Page 51 Conversation Drill 13: combining 2 of the previous exercises into one short 4-line dialogue: What is your friend's last name? It is [Chan, etc.]. Is he or she such and such nationality? No, he or she is a different nationality. MEMORIZE THIS ONE.
  • In the interest of time, we skipped Exercise 14 and started the "Say It In Cantonese" section on pages 53-54. We only covered the first few translation exercises before we ran out of time.
Next Monday, we will pick up with Exercise 14 on page 52, and then finish the "Say It In Cantonese" section before beginning Lesson 3.


Please review the exercises that we covered this past Monday and come prepared next time with any questions. Please translate ALL of the "Say It In Cantonese" exercises on pages 53-54 AND WRITE DOWN YOUR ANSWERS IN YALE ROMANIZED CANTONESE. Please bring your answers to class next Monday, prepared to participate when we finish covering this exercise. I would love to be able to go around the class and have people already prepared with translations when I call on you next Monday. Make me proud!

Though we are not covering them yet in class, please watch Cecilie's 4th Cantocourse video on Youtube  entitled, "In Polite Society." This is one of my favorites from her channel.

*Important Disclaimer first: 

Please DO NOT pronounce jo2 (the "ed" verb particle denoting in this case something that has happened in the past) as "JOE." This is WRONG WRONG WRONG, and I am surprised that Cecilie did not reshoot this one or correct it by rerecording the audio for that section. Perhaps it is her Norwegian accent coming through into her Cantonese, but this verb particle is ABSOLUTELY NOT pronounced "joe."

You MUST pronounce this verb particle as JAW to sound almost exactly like the English language word "jaw" but with a 2 tone, a mid rising tone.

More accurately, this particle is pronounced [DZJAW2], using a hybrid initial consonant that doesn't happen in English, effectively a combination of the DZ sound of "The Creature with Two HeaDS [HeaDZ]" and a standard English language "J" as in JAW or JELLY.

Anyway, other than this fundamental pronunciation error, this is a wonderful video, sure to make you smile. My favorite bit is where the drunk man goes to give Cecilie his business card and instead falls over and passes out:

See you all next week!


Hi Gang,

I want to apologize sincerely for my extreme delay in updating your blog section this past week. Busy time for me, and I should have stopped what I was doing and typed this entry last weekend. I realize that our next class is tonight, so I am very sorry for my delay.

I will keep this entry brief and to the point...


Last week, we reviewed Lesson 2 Dialogue 1's vocabulary and dialogue. We also covered the grammar points and then everyone in class had a chance to break up into "happy happy groups" to do the Language Practice section on pages 48 and 49.

Here is what we covered:
  • Vocabulary for the lesson: 21 words, including a proper name. MEMORIZE THESE.
  • The dialogue: this is a short dialogue and the vocabulary is excellent for beginning to describe family members, as well as to point out who people are when someone asks you, "Who is that [man, woman, child, etc.]?"
  • Grammar Point 1: the possessive particle DE. We covered this during our previous class as well as in my last blog entry. Please review if you need to.
  • Grammar Point 2: Measure Words. I pointed out again that the concept of measure words is a very important one to wrap your head around, even if we have so far only learned the one measure word GE for people. Please make sure that you understand THE CONCEPT of measure words. If the idea of what a measure word is and how or why it is used in Chinese is too vague or confusing to you, please review the textbook and google the term, or even better, find a Yo Yo Chinese or other Youtube video explaining measure words and watch one or more times until you understand the purpose of measure words and when they are used. This will be very important for your Mandarin learning process going forward!

I went on and on about this, and your ability to understand this concept as well as internalize it at the most basic level will allow you to begin to have basic conversations with Chinese speakers without feeling like you are at a loss for words when responding to various questions that your conversation partner might ask you.

 Excerpted from my Cantonese column in this same blog:

...[T]he concept of equivalency and parallel structure/ parallel word order for any Cantonese question and its most logical corresponding answer...

I explained that many beginning students get confused or panic and are at a loss for words when faced with even the most basic [Mandarin] question early on in their studies.  

Oh my god -- how do I answer this?!

Well, there is no reason to be panicked or confused; all you need to do is:
  1. Take the exact word order and sentence structure of the question.
  2. Make sure you understand the vocabulary of the question, so you know what is being asked of you.
  3. Isolate the question word, remove it from the sentence, and replace it with the answer word or words, being sure to keep everything else in the question the same (same exact word order and same exact WORDS).
  4. Remove any question sentence final particle and replace it with the appropriate answer sentence final particle, if applicable [more applicable to Cantonese, but occasionally applicable to Mandarin].
  5. Change any pronouns as appropriate. (If I ask YOU a question about yourself, you will reply, "I blah blah blah").
  • Grammar Point 4: YOU3 in its first usage that we have encountered: the verb TO HAVE. Remember that in Mandarin, you3 is NOT negated with bu4; it is ALWAYS negated with MEI2. YOU3 = to have; MEI2 YOU3 = to not have. MEMORIZE THIS. DO NOT GET IT WRONG AND USE BU4 TO NEGATE YOU3!!!
  • LANGUAGE PRACTICE on pages 48-49: Esther was absent last week, so I walked around class, doing my best to answer questions and provide insights during the remainder of class.
We will pick up tonight with a quick review of the material covered last week and then we will start Lesson 2 Dialogue 2: Asking [further questions] about someone's family.


I kind of missed the ball on this one; sorry! If you are reading this before class, please review the material covered last week and please preview Lesson 2 Dialogue 2's vocabulary.

See everyone tonight. Again, sorry for the delay with this blog entry!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mandarin I ALESN Thursday, December 7, 2017 Class Summary, Insights, Homework

Hi Everyone!

Sorry for my several day delay in writing this entry...


Picking up from Jeremy's brief notes on last week's class, which he substitute-taught for me while I attended an event, we discussed the importance of distinguishing between your 1 and 4 tones. We saw that practicing the correct pronunciation of the vocabulary words for mother and and father, from Lesson 2 Dialogue 1, is a perfect and easy way to cement in your mind the very different sounding 1 and 4 tones.

We reviewed Lesson 2 Dialogue 1's vocabulary. Esther read aloud and everyone repeated. Please review AND MEMORIZE the vocabulary, paying special attention to the following:
  • NA4 said with a high falling tone means that one, that. Make sure that you practice and get the tone correct for this one, because we will also NA3 later on, which means WHICH ONE?
  • ZHAO4PIAN4: 2 4 tones in a row. Get it right, a consistent tone sound for both syllables.
  • BA4BA vs.MA1MA. The 4th vs. the 1st tone. Get it right.
  • GE4 or GE with a neutral tone: the most common measure word. We will be covering the concept of measure words as we learn new ones. Remember that in other languages, the tree may be masculine and the table may be feminine or something similar with gender variations among nouns, but Chinese doesn't have that. In the Chinese mindset, every noun (with the exception of some nouns which already measure a standard unit, such as TIAN1 day) is categorized according to its shape or function, and has an appropriate measure word that matches the noun to its correct category in the Chinese view of the world.
  • NU3 with an umlaut over the U: this is not "new" but rather the U sound with the umlaut. Get it right.
  • SHEI2, also pronounced SHUI2 (the latter is the "formal" pronunciation of this character. We saw that Esther pronounced it this way. PotAYto potAHto.
  • TA1 (male) HE vs. TA1 (female) SHE. We discussed that in Mandarin, both HE and SHE are pronounced the same but have slightly different Chinese characters, letting us know that one is masculine and the other is feminine.
  • JIE3JIE in Mandarin, vs. the similar pronunciation in Cantonese WITH DIFFERENT TONES. If you are a Cantonese speaker learning Mandarin, get it right -- please pronounce this word in Mandarin and not in Cantonese when it appears in our textbook.
  • DA4GE1 OLDEST brother. Even though literally this means "big brother," it is understand that DA4GE1 is OLDEST brother and DA4JIE3 is OLDEST sister.
  • MEI2 as the very specific way that you negate YOU3 (to have) in Mandarin. You do not say "bu4 you3." You MUST say MEI2 YOU3, to not have something.
We reviewed the dialogue, repeating after Esther multiple times and taking apart and translating the conversation line by line. Please study and make sure that you understand every line of this dialogue. Memorize it if you can. Following our repetition of the dialogue after Esther, we broke into small groups and Esther and I walked around to help people, correcting where needed.

Onto the Grammar Points on page 45:

Grammar Point 1: DE. We discussed when to use and when you can eliminate the de. I never actually learned an official rule for Mandarin, but I did give the rule for the equivalent word in Cantonese. Some students were wondering when you can drop the de, and we were able to ask Lucy, our Mandarin 2 teacher, who arrived early while Mandarin 1 class was still going on.

Basically, if there is a close personal relationship or kinship with "the possessed" (de in this case is functioning like an apostrophe s or 's), such as MY FATHER, MY DAUGHTER, MY TEACHER, MY FRIEND, etc., you can dispense with the DE. However, if there is no close personal relationship and it is merely a situation of possession, like MY APPLE, MY CAR, etc., you need to use DE.

Grammar Point 2: Measure Words. I explained, per my mention above, that the Chinese understanding of the world divides all nouns into categories based on size, shape, or function -- such as flat things, round things, long thin flexible things, shorter thin things that are often utensils or tools... 

There are hundreds of measure words, as your book points out. Fortunately, as a beginning student, you only need to worry about the ones you specifically learn for each new noun that our book covers, as well as the most common measure word GE, as in YI1 GE REN2, one person. 

I mentioned that in Cantonese textbooks and some older Mandarin learning materials, these are often referred to as "classifiers" (because they classify nouns according to size, shape, function), but I feel that it is more helpful to refer to them as measure words, which will help us to remember that anytime you count anything in Mandarin -- one person, 3 teachers, 2 students, 417 sheets of paper, etc., you MUST include a measure word between the number and the noun. EXCEPT where the noun is already a unit of measure, again such as the word for day, mentioned above.

On pages 45 and 46, we repeated 5 sentence examples. counting different people with the measure word for person, GE. As we learn more measure words going forward, we will see that the grammar and syntax or word order for counting other things in Chinese is exactly the same:


We will pick up with Grammar point 3 Question Pronouns on page 46 next time, this coming Thursday.


Review and memorize Lesson 2 Dialogue 1's new vocabulary words. 

Review and practice the dialogue with yourself or a Mandarin speaking friend or family member if possible. 

Preview Grammar Point 3: Question Words on pages 46-47.

Finally, here is an example of  one of the beginner videos from Yang Yang's Mandarin Chinese video series on Youtube, YoYo Chinese, which I have mentioned several times now. This particular video is about tones. I recommend that everyone in my class watch all of the free YoYo Chinese beginner level videos on Youtube and possibly consider subscribing to her channel as well, if the videos help you:

Also, here is a link to the page on her blog where she explains the Mandarin 3rd tone. I have mentioned her explanation 2 or 3 times now during class, as it is the best explanation we have found so far for the way the 3rd tone really functions in Mandarin when sandwiched between other tones in rapid colloquial speech:

See you all on Thursday.

Cantonese I ALESN Monday, December 11, 2017 Class Summary, Insights, Homework

My apologies to Allison that there wasn't really anything for her to do tonight! I will try to involve you more in the drills next week...


Tonight, we began by reviewing the basic grammar / sentence structure of a Cantonese sentence:


Remember that "WHEN" stands for some time phrase (now, yesterday, 2 weeks from now on a Tuesday, etc.) and will only appear in one of the 2 locations, hence it is in parentheses. Usually, in Cantonese, this will appear right after the subject before anything else in the sentence, but occasionally it occurs at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis. 

REMEMBER THAT WHEN WILL NEVER APPEAR AT THE END OF A SENTENCE, AS IT DOES IN ENGLISH (English's "I will go to the store tomorrow" MUST in Cantonese ALWAYS either be "I tomorrow go to the store" or "Tomorrow, I go to the store."

We discussed that not every sentence will have all of these components, but that this is where each must go if they do exist in a given sentence, in order for that sentence to be grammatically correct and with proper SYNTAX in Cantonese. The most simple, complete, grammatically correct Cantonese sentences will only involve a subject (WHO) and a verb (WHAT HAPPENS). 

For example: Neih5 hou2. You good, or Hello.

Even questions, with their various question FINAL PARTICLES, follow this same basic structure:

Neih5 hou2 ma3? Where Neih5 is the subject and hou2 ma3 is the verb phrase (are good/well or not?).

We spent a bit of time reviewing the concept of equivalency and parallel structure/ parallel word order for any Cantonese question and its most logical corresponding answer. I explained that many beginning students get confused or panic and are at a loss for words when faced with even the most basic Cantonese question early on in their studies.  

Oh my god -- how do I answer this?!

Well, there is no reason to be panicked or confused; all you need to do is:
  1. Take the exact word order and sentence structure of the question.
  2. Make sure you understand the vocabulary of the question, so you know what is being asked of you.
  3. Isolate the question word, remove it from the sentence, and replace it with the answer word or words, being sure to keep everything else in the question the same.
  4. Remove any question sentence final particle and replace it with the appropriate answer sentence final particle, if applicable.
  5. Change any pronouns as appropriate. (If I ask YOU a question about yourself, you will reply, "I blah blah blah").
I then showed how the example question and answer regarding what someone's last name is, at the top of page 43, is a perfect and simple example of this principle. Don't worry if you are confused; we are going to be covering this basic Cantonese sentence structure and word order over and over again for the rest of the year, as well as the concept of equivalency and parallel structure/word order between questions and their answers for the rest of the year as well.

We then covered GE3 as a noun forming boundword. I reviewed the first usage of GE3 that we have all seen so far in our course: Ngoh5 GE3 (MINE). In its first usage that we have learned, ge3 is a "POSSESSIVE-IZER" -- not a correct grammar term, for sure, but one that clearly explains what it does. The first usage of ge3 is ownership, or what we think of in English as "apostrophe s" ('s).

I mentioned my online tutoring student in Minnesota earlier this year and his fascination with ge3 and ga3 as possessives, noun forming boundwords and sentence final particles. Though wayyyy beyond the scope of lesson 2 in our textbook, my research on ge3 and ga3 for my tutoring student earlier this year yielded some very interesting results, which I am happy to share later on in this blog if someone asks...

Per the book, we discussed that the sentence (question) final particle GA3 = GE3 + A3. I asked both Allison and Hung, who was eating his dinner in the back of the classroom, whether they have also heard uses of "GE3 A3" instead of GA3. As I have mentioned, every rule in Cantonese seems to have exceptions. Though we are properly taught that GE3 + A3 when forming a question that will elicit a GE3 sentence final particle (noun forming boundword) response becomes GA3, I mentioned that I have seen at least once in another textbook written by a real authentic Cantonese speaking Chinese person, a GE3 A3 question. I will try to find this and will update this blog entry if/when I do.

We reviewed mat1 yeh5, me1 yeh5, mi1 yeh5, and me1 --> 2 (where the tone starts 1 and slurs to some kind of 2 tone at the end of the word). This latter is the flippant Cantonese equivalent of the "Whaddya want?!" voiced by the rude bartender in Cecilie's Cantocourse video 1 and by the rude waitress in Cecilie's video 2, both previously assigned as homework for your class.

Then, onto the DRILLS that we covered in class:
  1. p. 44 Transformation Drill 1: making a positive statement negative by adding MH4.
  2. p. 44 Substitution Drill 2: substituting different country or city names for where someone is from.
  3. p. 45 Mixed Substitution Drill 3: first changing the pronoun and then changing the country or city where that person is from.
  4. p. 45 Expansion Drill 4: saying that some person is not [insert name here], but I am.
  5. p. 46 Transformation Drill 5: Turning a statement about ME into a question about YOU (a question that someone would ask me to get the response of my initial statement). This last one is the most important drill that we covered during this class, in which we reverse engineered statements into the most logical question that one would ask to get an answer in the form of the initial statement. Notice that the statement and its related question of course display complete and perfect equivalency and parallel structure/ parallel word order.
At this point, near the end of class, I asked if people enjoyed the drills, especially since 2 of the students had expressed to me after our previous class that they were really looking forward to doing the drills in class. I was encouraged to hear that everyone either enjoyed the drills and felt they were valuable at this stage of your learning process, or perhaps some of you declined to comment if you did not enjoy the drills.

I mentioned that in my opinion, one of the best ways to learn Chinese as a beginner is to do substitution and expansion drills on as many basic sentence structures as possible, incorporating as much new vocabulary as possible when making new sentences or variations of previous sentences as provided by the textbook.

I digressed for a few minutes and mentioned my own current Cantonese and Mandarin studies with GLOSSIKA, an audio and textbook resource, as I work to learn some intermediate/advanced vocabulary and sentence structures for myself in both languages/dialects. Glossika as a learning system relies on this same basic sentence building method for its approach to creating fluency in a foreign language. I mentioned the Glossika Mass Sentence Method, which I recommend to all students once you get past the initial hurdle of a level one Chinese course such as ours:

Anela asked a question about haih6 mh4 haih6?  vs. haih6 ma3? We discussed that the first structure is more "colloquial" (how everyday speakers would ask a yes or no "to be" question), and that the ma3 usage is more written or "formal" Cantonese, as might be spoken by TV newscasters, weather reporters, radio DJs, politicians, or anyone reading Mandarin aloud and pronouncing it as Cantonese. Certainly, you might see this in writing in a Hong Kong newspaper, but I believe that most native speakers would use haih5 mh4 haih5 in everyday speech. As Anela suggested, it certainly sounds "more Cantonesey."

We will pick up next time with Response Drill 6 on the top of page 47.

Please review drills on pages 44-46. Preview drills on pages 47-53, which we will cover next time. 

Review the vocabulary and dialogue for lesson 2, and then DO the "Say It In Cantonese" exercise on page 53, translating from English into Cantonese. Please write down your answers and bring them to class next Monday.  

Make sure you do the entire exercise, which continues on page 54 with 2 short dialogues based on the vocabulary we have covered so far, which you are asked to translate from English into Cantonese.
Finally, if you have time, please watch Cecilie's third video from her Cantocourse Youtube channel, called "In A Whorehouse." As you can imagine, this one is not really for kids. Let me reassure my students, though, that this is a PG rated video -- no nudity, just slightly vulgar humor, but no bad words that I remember.

Basically, the video takes advantage of the Cantonese slang for seeing a prostitute, which literally translates to "ordering chicken" (at a restaurant). The main point of this video is the verb SEUHNG5, to want to do another verb, which we will eventually learn in our textbook in an upcoming lesson:

See everyone next Monday.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Many Thanks to the 4 or 5 students who took this class...

I will be removing this link from the blog's menu and replacing it shortly with a new tab that will access interviews with various ALESN teachers, administrators, and other language learners and teachers, including suggestions for beginners learning Chinese for the first time.

Readers will be able to access this discontinued class's blog entries via the blog categories at the right of your screen.

Best wishes to All!


Hi Gangz,

Tsz Fong, our fearless head administrator, has sent along the following holiday closing schedule to all ALESN teachers and volunteers, and I thought I would share it with everyone. I appreciate everyone's continued attendance this past fall semester and look forward to a productive spring semester as well, when we will continue with the same material, wherever we leave off in 2 weeks for the Christmas closing.

Happy Holidays!!!

The school at 100 Hester St will be physically closed for Winter Recess from
Sat 12/23 to Mon 1/1

The last day of 2017 Saturday classes is: 12/16
The last day of 2017 Monday classes is: 12/18
The last day of 2017 Thursday classes is: 12/21

The first day of 2018 Thursday classes is: 1/4
The first day of 2018 Saturday classes is: 1/6
The first day of 2018 Monday classes is: 1/8

For 2018 the school will be closed on the dates below.

(*Note that I'm only listing the dates we hold classes on (Mon, Thur, Sat)
If the school is closed on a day we don't hold classes I won't list it below to avoid any confusion.)

Mon 1/1   Winter Recess
Mon 1/15  MLK
Sat 2/17  Lunar New Year
Mon 2/19  Presidents' Day
Thu 2/22  Mid-Winter Recess
Sat 3/31  Spring Recess
Mon 4/2   Spring Recess
Thu 4/6   Spring Recess
Sat 5/26  Memorial Day Weekend
Mon 5/28  Memorial Day Weekend

This is not yet confirmed but I think the last day of classes will be
Sat 6/23 or Sat 6/30.

As per ALESN tradition, we hold a talent show on the last day of Saturday classes.
All students and instructors are welcome to perform at the talent show.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cantonese Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, Dec 4, 2017

Hi Gang,

We spent the entire class tonight covering some basic Cantonese (and Chinese in general) grammar.


(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Is Going On + How Many Times (or a few other adverbial phrases)

As we reviewed from the very end of our previous class, THIS is the basic structure of a Cantonese sentence, with the following clarifications/definitions, and has been shortened this way as a memory aid: (WHEN) WHO (WHEN) WHERE WHAT HOW, or more simply and more often: WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW:
  • WHEN = the specific time when the action of the sentence occurs (now, yesterday, next Tuesday, 3 years from now on a Friday at 4:42 am, etc.). This can appear in one of two possible places in a Cantonese sentence: either at the very beginning before the subject, or right after the subject. It MUST appear in one of these 2 places. It CANNOT appear at the end of a sentence, as in English; though in English, we can say either "Tomorrow I will go to the store," or "I will go to the store tomorrow," in Cantonese we MUST either say "Tomorrow I will go to the store" or "I tomorrow will go to the store." We CANNOT put the time phrase at the end of  a Cantonese sentence!
  • WHO = the subject of the sentence (a person, place or thing)
  • WHERE = the location of the action in the sentence (in New York, at my home, in the classroom, etc.). This will be different from an English sentence: "I attended Chinese class at MS 131" becomes in Cantonese "I at MS 131 attended Chinese class." 
  • WHAT is not a noun, but rather is short for "What Happens In The Sentence" -- in other words, THE ACTION or VERB PHRASE for the sentence. Went to the store; plays piano; will ask for another plate of dumplings; etc.
  • HOW = how many times, or sometimes other similar adverbial phrase modifiers of the verb action of the sentence. *Please note, though it is wayyyy advanced past our current level, "three times a week" will actually split and part will appear at the beginning of a Cantonese sentence and the other part at the end of a Cantonese sentence, when we get to this later on in the course: "I go to the movies 3 times a week" will translate into Cantonese as, "I each week go to the movies 3 times" or "I 1 week go to the movies 3 times."
Because Cantonese sentences are more likely to have the time phrase (yesterday, today, now, etc.) appear right after the subject, except when emphasizing when some action occurs, we can simplify our memory aid to:


If you can remember this and really internalize it and begin to view every single Cantonese sentence we learn or that you learn on your own from now on as fitting into this structure or framework, you will rarely if ever have any issue forming a Cantonese sentence with proper SYNTAX (the grammatically correct word order for the language as it is spoken by educated native speakers).

I suggest that all of you create your own "worst scenario" Cantonese syntax sentence as you learn more and more vocabulary, and then translate it into English preserving the exact word order of the Cantonese so that all of the differences regarding WHERE THINGS GO IN A CANTONESE SENTENCE will be obvious to you. At this point in time, due to our very limited vocabulary and lesson material covered so far, we cannot really do this yet in Cantonese, but we can certainly do this in English, to create a very awkward and unnatural-sounding English language sentence with perfect Cantonese Chinese word order.

Without bogging you down with unnecessary additional Cantonese vocabulary words at this point, my "worst case scenario" English translation of a complicated Cantonese sentence preserving proper Cantonese syntax, off the top of my head, might be:

Sammy last Tuesday afternoon (at) pm 3:30 located in Brooklyn's Hong Kong Supermarket went shopping 2 times...

If we want to go truly crazy, we can even add a WHY to the same Cantonese sentence, creating one long, winding tale just like the stories we might weave in English. This would form a WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW WHY sentence:

...BECAUSE the first time, she forgot to buy noodles; THEREFORE, she later returned (and) thus bought-succeeded her earlier forgot to buy needed things.

As in English, with a bit more polish, we could have also created a more concise WHY (because... therefore...) WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW MANY TIMES sentence:

BECAUSE the first time, she forgot to buy noodles -- THEREFORE, she later last Tuesday afternoon (at) pm 3:30 returned went Brooklyn's Hong Kong Supermarket a second time purchased her forgot to buy needed things.

Once we learn more Cantonese, we can eventually approach making ridiculously long and overly complicated sentences like this. I challenge you all to challenge yourselves as you learn more vocabulary and as your Cantonese studies progress, to constantly evaluate and reevaluate your current level of Cantonese by seeing just how long and unnecessarily convoluted of a sentence you can create while still preserving correct Cantonese syntax and grammar.

In fact, some of the more nerdy types among our Saturday Mandarin III students at ALESN take every opportunity to do just this every time one of our teachers assigns an in-class exercise, asking students to create a sample sentence with a new grammar structure. Why not try to use more (or even all) of your knowledge and test the boundaries of your current conversational ability rather than being content with "Haih6 a3" and other short replies when someone engages you in conversation in Cantonese?

Try to really challenge yourself from now on at each progressive stage of your own Cantonese studies.

From our discussion of the basic WHO WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW sentence structure, we discussed that Chinese, and Cantonese in particular, really does have a set of grammatical structures, in addition to basic syntax/word order.

We proceeded to cover the following GRAMMATICAL concepts for the remainder of class, as mentioned in our textbook:
  • Verb form: absence of subject verb concord: One excellent thing about Chinese, as opposed to most other languages taught in US schools, is an absence of verb conjugations. In Cantonese, we only need to memorize the INFINITIVE for each verb. In the present tense, THE INFINITIVE IS THE VERB IN ALL OF ITS "CONJUGATIONS. Regardless of I, you singular, he/she/it, we, you plural, or they, the verb form in a present tense Cantonese sentence will always be the same exact word, the same syllable(s) with the same tone(s) -- no further modifications needed to mirror conjugations of the same action in English or Spanish or German or whatever language you might also speak.
  • Noun form: absence of singular/plural distinction. Similarly, there is no modification necessary to the word itself or words themselves for any noun in Cantonese to distinguish whether that noun is singular or plural. There is no equivalent suffix like "s" to be added to denote more than one of a noun. Any clarification of whether the speaker is discussing 1 or 53,276 of a given noun will be made with measure words and numbers or other contextual information supplied in the rest of the sentence or in another sentence by the speaker as he or she explains the details of what is being discussed. I provided some elaboration outside of scope of book (di1 as the universal Cantonese plural measure word, for example, which we will eventually cover in class at a later date).
  • Singular and plural pronouns (covered last time): Ngoh5 (I) ----> Ngoh5 DEIH6 (We); Neih5 (you singular) ----> Neih5 DEIH6 (yous guys or all y'all); Keuih5 (He/She/sometimes It) ----> Keuih5 DEIH6 (They)
  • page 40 #4 noun modification: ngoh5 panhg4 yauh5 was the example the book provided. I explained why this is a HORRIBLE example to give right off the bat, because most situations of possession in Cantonese need either GE3 in between the subject and the "owned object," or more often in Cantonese (as opposed to Mandarin and other dialects), the proper measure word for the noun that is "owned." In the case of familiar or "closely connected" objects, such as my FATHER, my MOTHER, my FRIEND, my TEACHER, etc., as long as the "owned object" is 2 or more syllables, if the relationship is considered close according to Cantonese Chinese culture, then the GE3 or the measure word can be eliminated. Otherwise, this should have been either ngoh5 GE3 pahng4 yauh5 or ngoh5 GO3 pahng4 yauh5. Though I explained this more in depth in class, I am going to leave this alone now, because my explanation of the confusing choice of example by the textbook for this point again wayyyyy surpasses our current understanding of the language. So just let my comments here wash over you and maybe eventually remember that I mentioned this, when we get to this during a future lesson.
  • Sentence suffixes (sentence final particles):
  1. We saw that some can convey mood or attitude, such as politeness or pointing out the obvious or surprise or sarcasm.
  2. Others can convey meaning, such as a type of question or an observation that something has changed from the way it used to be.
We have already seen ma3, a3, and ne1.These are all examples of sentence final particles, which your book will refer to as "sentence suffixes." I personally favor the use of the term "sentence final particle," because to me, this better explains the grammatical role of these syllables in Cantonese sentences.

We discussed that these are very difficult for non-Chinese people to learn, because for the most part, we don't really have anything like this in English. As the book points out, the closest we have would be something like, "She left for lunch, don't you know?" or "She just won the lottery -- really?!"

For an idea of where sentence final particles would sit during English language speech, check out this humorous video by two white Canadian guys who became fluent in Cantonese while living in Macau, where they attended school as children.

While very accurately portraying the Hong Kong English accent of many Cantonese speakers, they purposefully add Cantonese sentence final particles to their English language sentences -- in particular a3, wo3, ne1.

What makes this video NOT racist is the fact that both of these guys also speak fluent Cantonese with native accents in between their frighteningly accurate pronunciation of Hong Kong Cantonese-accented English:

A3 was discussed with regards to its 2 usages we have seen so far:
  1. In various types of questions.
  2. In various types of statements to give a neutral statement, especially when an answer differs from the expectation of the questioner, at which point the tone changes and it becomes a1 (bottom of page 41 to top of page 42).
We will discuss a3 A LOT this year, because it is the most common Cantonese sentence final particle and it  has many uses, depending on context and meaning.

Ne1 was discussed, which we have already learned: "how about." Remember that, for proper word order in Cantonese, the ne1 final particle comes after the thing you are inquiring "how about?".

  • To further illustrate the use of our ma3 and a3 sentence final particles in some basic YES/NO Cantonese questions, I drew on board:
Page 42 of your textbook (#6) refers to these structures as Choice type questions. I will call them YES OR NO QUESTIONS.
In other words, we discussed that technically, NEIH5 HOU2 MA3? and NEIH5 HOU2 MH4 HOU2 A3? carry the exact same meaning, and are really two different and equally correct Cantonese grammatical structures for asking the same yes or no question: Are you well? (or How are you?). However, I reminded everyone that in the case of this particular question, Neih5 hou2 ma3? has become the standard, accepted greeting, using the ma3 sentence final particle.

We will review this stuff at the beginning of next class. Please review your notes regarding this part of the lesson and come to class next Monday prepared with any questions.
  • For "Subject is Adjective" type statements in Cantonese, we discussed the basic structure of:
SUBJECT + HOU2 + ADJECTIVE. As I pointed out, the HOU2 in this situation does not necessarily mean "very," and may be translated more to "rather" -- as in "She is rather pretty," instead of necessarily she is VERY pretty.

Because we are getting ahead of ourselves with this particular sentence structure, I will wait until we cover it in the book to further elaborate. This said, though, we did discuss that any yes or no questions asking if someone is pretty or if the bridge is long, or whatever, will follow either the ma3 or the a3 sentence structures mentioned above.

Most importantly, just remember that I said the following: In almost all cases other than when you feel a need to emphasize that someone or something really IS the adjective, a Cantonese sentence will NOT use haih6 (to be) in the sentence when saying that the subject is an adjective IN THE POSITIVE FORM OF THE SENTENCE.

By "the positive form" of the sentence or statement, I mean something like "John IS tall" or "Susan IS fat." In Cantonese, this kind of sentence will use a SUBJECT + HOU2 + ADJECTIVE structure, and will not involve the use of HAIH6 (to be). I will leave this for now, but when we return to it in a later lesson, please remember that I mentioned this now, this past Monday in class.
  • Question word questions (who, what, where, when, why, how, how much/many?)
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO LEARN RIGHT AWAY IS THIS: The structure and word order of any question in Cantonese will be the exact same structure and word order of the answer (assuming you repeat all of the information from the question in your answer, of course). All you need to do is find and remove question word and put the answer word(s) or phrase in exact same spot in the sentence where question word was located -- and you change the subject as necessary from "you" to "I" or whatever might be appropriate for your response. 

Remember: If I ask YOU a question about yourself, you are going to respond with "I blah blah blah." 

We will pick up with ge3 as noun forming boundword on page 43 next time.
Review pages 38-43 and please come to class next time with any questions. 

Preview the various drills on pages 44-47, continuing to preview to page 53 if you are not confused and have time.
Pick some sentences in the current lesson and practice voicing just the tonal contours of the words on an "aah" syllable (see previous blog entry for explanation). This is an excellent way to practice and internalize your tones one by one as well as in succession over the course of one or more sentences, eventually spoken in real time.
Finally, though we haven't had time to discuss yet in class, please watch my friend Cecilie's second Youtube video in her Cantocourse Cantonese learning series. Once we learn more words, the very basic concepts in her cute skits will become clearer.

For example, the single focus of video 2 is YIU3, the Cantonese verb for TO WANT SOMETHING (TO WANT A NOUN). She explains this after the skit finishes. Cecilie also discusses the question word MAT1 YEH5. Next, she mentions some very basic MEASURE WORDS for containers of beverages. Cecilie refers to measure words as CLASSIFIERS. As I have mentioned in class, we will learn more measure words as we learn more NOUNS in subsequent lessons of our textbook. Remember that every NOUN in Cantonese has its own proper MEASURE WORD. This is one of the things that makes learning Chinese a bit more complicated than English:

See everyone next week!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Quick Summary of Thursday, November 30, 2017 Mandarin I class, which had a substitute teacher

Hi Gang,

I understand from Jeremy that you all covered the following material:

"We got up to p. 47-8. Went fine. :)

  • 你贵姓 (Ni3 gui4 xing4? What is your honorable last name?
  • 你姓什么 (Ni3 xing4 shen2 me? What is your last name?)
  • 你叫什么名字 (Ni3 jiao4 shen2 me ming2 zi? What is your name [either first or full name]?)
  • 谁 (xing4, last name [noun] or to have the last name of [verb])
  • 个 (ge, the most common Chinese MEASURE WORD)
  • 有 (you3) and 没有 (mei2 you3) to have and to not have
  • 也 (ye3, also)
"Students should pay extra attention to first and fourth tones -- maybe emphasizing by saying a little bit longer." We can talk more about this next time. We will continue to work on the accuracy of our tones for the rest of the academic year.
Please review the part of the lesson that Jeremy covered in class last night (pages 47 and 48 of your textbook). We will do a quick review of this material next week before continuing on pages 48 and 49. 

See you all in class next week. Thanks again to Jeremy for covering my class last night while I attended a remembrance service for someone who passed away earlier this year.

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, Nov 27, 2017

Hi Gang,

We had a productive class tonight, focusing on Lesson 2's dialogue. Everyone repeated after Allison multiple times and then we went around the room and everyone had a chance to read aloud solo. Following some observations which I will mention below, we broke up into pairs and small groups and everyone ran the dialogue back and forth, with Allison and I walking around to answer questions and correct folks' pronunciation. 

We started the Structure Notes at the bottom of page 38 at the end of class, which is where we will pick up next Monday.


We covered the following points and observations during class:
  • When everyone was repeating after Allison, we noticed sentence tonal contours. I discussed 3 ways that you guys can practice these sentences, especially the longer sentences:
  1. You can of course practice reading the sentences as stated, with all of the words as well as the correct pronunciation and tones of those words. This method allows you to begin to internalize the overall meaning of the things that you are learning to say in Cantonese and will also help you to build experience speaking brief moments of increasingly authentic or accurate Cantonese language.
  2. You can focus specifically on the pronunciation and tone of each individual syllable, perhaps starting by saying each syllable slowly and clearly. This way, regardless of the meaning of the entire sentence or line of dialogue, you will make sure that you are pronouncing each word slowly and properly.
  3. You can focus on the tones of each syllable over the scope of each sentence, paying attention to the TONAL CONTOUR or flow of the sounds of Cantonese. I recommended voicing the tones of each line on an "aah" syllable. I demonstrated this and the class repeated after me. In my opinion, this is THE BEST WAY to learn and solidify your tones in Cantonese, by divorcing the tonal sounds of the language from the meaning at first (this suggestion is only for those of you having a problem getting the tones, of course) -- so that you can only focus on the "melodic" contour of each line of Cantonese, the ups and downs if you will -- without worrying about listening comprehension of the meaning of the material at hand.
  • We discussed the importance of pronouncing a series of syllables with the same tone robotically. Remember...
  1. Longer sentences = "That's a mouthful..." We then broke these in half and then repeated each longer sentence twice during our third time through: first half, second half, whole sentence.
  2. Shorter sentences and phrases were much easier for all of you, because there were fewer syllables and therefore fewer pronunciation or tones issues to pay attention to as you were reciting the lines.
  3. The fact that there is a difference between being able to accurately parrot the sounds of Cantonese after a teacher speaks them first, and the student's ability to produce accurate sounds of Cantonese from scratch without repeating after a teacher -- producing these sounds from inside your mind, to your mouth, to the ears of your Cantonese conversation partner.
  4. Ngoh5 dou1 haih6 or Ngoh5 dou1 [insert verb here] as a useful sentence for everyone to memorize and begin to recognize when you hear it in common everyday speech. This is what you would say if you agree with your conversation partner because you are the same way or you think or feel the same way about the same issue or concern, or you are also from the same place, going to the same destination, you like the same food, etc. [depending on the verb or verb phrase that follows Ngoh5 dou1...].
  • Everyone then had a chance to say one or more lines at a time by themselves in front of the class. Observations.
  • From here, we broke into groups. The first group I helped had some really great observations and questions, so Allison pretty much single handedly helped everyone else. Thanks, Allison!!!
  • Question / observations about comparing Cantonese and Mandarin tones. Thought beyond the scope of most of you, one person asked me to compare and contrast the Mandarin 4 high falling tone with the Cantonese 4 tone, as well as to discuss the similarity or difference between the Mandarin 3 tone and the Cantonese 5 tone. I am happy to discuss further in person or via email with any specific students who are interested in this, but this question was too advanced or esoteric for most of the class.
  • The "Talking Dog" phenomenon and using mh4 goi1 to reset the native speaker's ear and expectations. Examples were provided of my friend's sister and her husband speaking Mandarin in Xian and Tony Parisi's suggestion to always start a new Cantonese language encounter with a Chinese person with "mh4 goi1" (please or excuse me). 
Remember that for those of us who do not look Chinese or Asian, there may be a huge disconnect in the mind of a native speaker when he sees and hears even the most accurately pronounced Cantonese coming from a face that in the mind of some "less worldly" native speakers should not or cannot possibly produce those sounds. Even if you speak perfect, flawless Cantonese with more accurate or "standard" pronunciation and tones than the native speaker Chinese person you are attempting to communicate with, the Chinese native speaker might see you as a "talking dog."

 By this, we mean that if any of us saw a dog on the street speaking perfect English, we might not even realize that it was attempting to communicate with us because of a very strong preconceived notion or prejudice in our minds telling us that dogs are only capable of barking. So even if this hypothetical dog started to recite the works of Shakespeare in a perfect standard "broadcast" British accent, all we might hear would be some kind of different sounding or interesting BARK.

I can provide a further example of this phenomenon, something that happened to me right after class this past Monday evening at Deluxe Supermarket on Elizabeth Street between Grand and Hester Streets in Manhattan's Chinatown.

There was one prepackaged cold sesame noodles lunchbox left on the counter (it was 7:45 pm and the supermarket was getting ready to close). A Chinese man was standing in front of the noodles box, ordering food from the person behind the counter in Cantonese. I asked this gentleman in perfectly pronounced Cantonese if the box was his. He looked at me like I had 3 heads, gave me a brief almost dirty look, looked away, and then ignored me as I grabbed the noodles box and took it to the register to pay. This kind of thing happens to me ALL THE TIME to me as a pale white Jewish guy when I speak accurate Cantonese to native Chinese speakers who are not prepared to see and hear those words coming from my pale white American face.

  • We had a special request to skip the pronunciation notes after the dialogue and jump right into some grammar. Please remember to review the pronunciation and tones notes on pages 34-36 and come to class next time with any questions or observations. I recognize the keen desire of some of you to jump right into grammar, and you are to be commended for your enthusiasm. Please remember, though that with only 3 or 4 exceptions, people in class are still producing MAJOR pronunciation and tones errors in every line of the dialogue, so the pronunciation and tones notes, however tedious they might seem, are definitely not something to skip or take lightly.
I apologize that we only covered grammar concepts for 5 minutes.
  • We covered the idea of a basic Chinese sentence structure:
(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Happens/Verb Phrase
I will explain more about this in future lessons, such as next week, so let me leave this for now.
  • The textbook begins its Structure Notes for Lesson 2 by saying, "Some say Cantonese has no grammar..." I explained that this is definitely NOT the case, and we will pick up here next time, up at the bottom of page 38 of our book.


For homework, please read the pronunciation and tones review that I skipped from page 34 to page 37. I will briefly cover this material next time because, looking at it as I type this, it is important stuff and should not be skipped.

Please also read the Culture Notes on pages 37-38, clarifying sin1 saang1, siu2 je2, and sing3. Remember that in English, we say Mr. Jones and Ms. Lee, but in Chinese, we say Jones Mr. And Lee Ms.

Finally, for homework, please preview the Structure Notes on pages 38-44. THIS is what we will cover during most of next week's class. In other words, next week will mostly cover our introduction to basic Cantonese grammar. 

I will also review basic Cantonese syntax (word order, or what goes where):

(When) + Who + (When) + Where + What Happens/Verb Phrase

See you all next class.

Monday, November 27, 2017


Hi Gang,

Jeremy is an amazing fellow, very fluent in and knowledgeable about Mandarin Chinese. Also, inspiringly for those of you who are not ethnically Chinese, Jeremy is a white dude like me -- only his Mandarin language skills are at a whole 'nother level -- leaps and bounds above mine.

Please attend class this Thursday. DO NOT SKIP JUST BECAUSE I AM LETTING YOU ALL KNOW IN ADVANCE THAT I WILL NOT BE TEACHING THIS WEEK. I assure you that you will learn a lot from Jeremy, who will pick up exactly where we left off last week.

Hopefully, Jeremy will also let me know what he covered, so I can summarize the material in a supplemental blog entry before my next class that I will teach next week.

See you all 2 Thursdays from now. Thanks, Everyone.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework for Monday, Nov 20, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I felt like our most recent class was a bit tedious, and I apologize if any of that was my doing. We covered the basics of Lesson 2's dialogue and vocabulary, but I felt like I may have moved a bit too slowly with some of the material...


It turns out that while we did go over the vocabulary on pages 54-55 during our previous class, I was mistaken that we had previewed the dialogue.

We began class this past Monday by reviewing the vocabulary for lesson 2. I pointed out the following tidbits of information:
  • a3 (pronounced "aah" on a mid level tone) as a sentence final particle. Any time you see "sentence suffix" in our textbook, the author is referring to a sentence final particle. We will study a bunch of these during the coming weeks and months. a3 is a very versatile sentence final particle; it is used in this lesson to soften abruptness. If anyone has any questions about this usage, please ask me next week in class.
  • dou1 is used in this lesson to mean "also," but it can mean all or every one of some group of things or people. We will see this other meaning in future lessons.
  • ga3 is a sentence final particle formed by taking the final particle ge3 and adding a3 -- usually forming a question where the question asks, "Blah blah blah GA3?" and the answer states, "Blah blah blah GE3." We will see how this is used in the lesson.
  • Gam2 really is a top 5 or top 10 Cantonese word. Learn it and memorize its proper usage. It is very conversational and "Cantonesey."
  • gwai3 sing3 (or Neih5 gwai3 sing3 a3?) is the proper formal question to ask someone what their "honorable" last name is. The correct response will be, "Ngoh5 sing3 [insert your last name here]."
  • Remember that in order to state the nationality of someone from a certain country (or on a smaller scale, to say that someone is from a certain town or city), just add YAHN4 after the name of the country, tow n or place. There are many examples of this in the vocabulary from lesson 2.
  • Please remember that all 3 of the singular pronouns have the 5 tone, the low rising tone: NGOH5 (I or me); NEIH5 or LEIH5 (you singular); KEUIH5 (he, she, him, her, sometimes it).
  • In order to make any of the singular pronouns plural, just add DEIH6: NGOH5 DEIH6 (we or us); NEIH5 DEIH6 or LEIH5 DEIH6 (yous guys or all y'all); and KEUIH5 DEIH6 (they or them). HOWEVER, you don't add this after nouns like "friend" or "student" as you do with the comparable word in Mandarin
  • mat1 yeh5? is our first question word: what? This is sometimes abbreviated me1 yeh5 or mi1 yeh5. It is also abbreviated me1-eh(3)(6), where the 2 syllables are slurred together, but this is very casual or rude. You will hear this all the time and especially in comedy movies and other funny and sarcastic situations, but as a new student, DON'T SAY IT THIS WAY. You will sound angry or nasty.
  • ne1 is our second sentence final particle that we are learning in this lesson. It means "how about?"  [whatever comes before it]. Remember that some people confuse the meaning of ne1 with neih5 ne1 (how about YOU). NE1 by itself means "how about?" -- as in, "I like French food." "Italian food ne1?" How about Italian food?
  • The vocabulary word, pahng4 yauh5 (friend) is introduced with its MEASURE WORD, go3. We discussed the general idea of measure words. I spent a while explaining that we do have measure words in English: a BUNCH of carrots; a LITTER of puppies; a SLICE of pizza or bread. Whereas other languages (European languages, for example) may have masculine, feminine, or even neuter nouns, Chinese has none of that -- but each noun is seen by the Chinese mindset as belonging to a specific category of nouns based on shape or functionality. A more in depth discussion is beyond the scope of the current lesson, even though I did give additional examples in class. We will return to the concept of MEASURE WORDS as we are introduced to other ones in future lessons.
  • Finally, we were introduced to the concepts of sin1 saang1 and siu2 je2 (Sir and Miss or Ms.). I explained that because last names are so important to Chinese people, titles are the reverse of how they are spoken in English. Mr. Jones becomes "Jones Mr.." Miss Lee becomes "Lee Miss."
From here, we turned to the Build Up of the Dialogue on pages 32 and 33. Everyone did very well with the pronunciation and tones of the material, and a few people asked good questions.

Following the build-up, we had Allison read the Dialogue aloud several times, and then you all repeated after her a few times, one phrase or sentence at a time. We will begin next class by reviewing the dialogue. Everyone will have a chance at the beginning of next class to say one or more lines in front of the class as we go around. Following this, we will break into small groups so that everyone can practice the dialogue. Allison and I will walk around and correct pronunciation and answer any questions. If we have time, we will also begin Lesson 2's grammar next time as well.


I don't really have any insights at the moment for this past week's class. Just this:  


In other words, whatever each of you might be struggling with, recognize it, commit to working on that exact bit of knowledge, and just keep working on it as much and as often as you need until you make the progress that you want OR NEED to make in order to progress to the next lesson, the next group of vocabulary words to memorize, the next step in your growing knowledge of Cantonese.

Make a deal with yourself that you will continue to improve or a daily, weekly, monthly basis and that you will begin to speak Cantonese with the people you would like to communicate with. Keep this goal in mind each time you attend class and each time you study or practice between class. It is important to stay motivated throughout the week while you are studying Cantonese -- not just on Mondays when you attend class.


Your homework for next class is to review Lesson 2's vocabulary and dialogue, and make a list of any problem words or pronunciation/tones issues. Bring this list to class on Monday, ready to ask any questions that will help you to clarify whatever you need to work on this week.

Go back and rewatch Cecilie's "In A Bar" video from link I posted last week (below in this section of the blog). On the right hand side of the screen, click on video 2 and watch that as well. There are many fun and funny learn Cantonese videos on Cecilie's Cantocourse Youtube channel. Depending on time and interest, we may start discussing these videos in class.

See everyone on Monday.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mandarin I Class Summary, Insights, Homework for Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hi Gang,

Before I forget:


Let's review what we covered this past week in class:


First, we reviewed the vocabulary on pages 21 and 22. Esther read everything aloud and you guys repeated after her. This time, she read everything nice and slow(ly). After reviewing and clarifying/elaborating on some of the vocabulary and concepts / meanings of the vocabulary, I had Esther read the dialogue again, this time slower than last week. Following Esther's reading, we reviewed the dialogue sentence by sentence to make sure that everyone understood the meaning of the concepts before repeating. This is going to be our workflow going forward with every dialogue -- first reviewing the meaning and then repeating it.

It is very important that everyone understand WHAT they are saying BEFORE they say it -- right?

We saw that problematic words for some members of the class were:
  • gui4 (remembering that it is pronounced GWAY with a falling tone. UI is short for UEI, spelled UI "for convenience sake," according to our book)
  • xing4 (remember the X sound, as opposed to the SH sound)
  • XIAO3JIE3, pronounced xiao2jie3 due to tone sandhi, as we have discussed multiple times now
  • Remember that the IAO of xiao3 and jiao4 is pronounced as if it were a QUADRATHONG (4 consecutive momentary vowel songs in a row: JEE-AAH-OH-OO). It is NOT "jow." This can be a tough concept for Cantonese speakers who tend to want to pronounce this as if the syllable rhymes with the Cantonese word for wine. It does NOT, if pronounced properly in Mandarin. If you are a Cantonese speaker, don't be lazy. ENUNCIATE your Mandarin compound finals properly, especially ones that contain multiple sequential vowel sounds as part of the same compound final sound.
  • XIAN1SHENG: this is a perfect opportunity for you to change your mouth shape from the wide smile of the X initial consonant of the first syllable to the retroflex SH consonant that we learned when we pronounced the ZH CH SH R line of the bo po mo fo table!
Remember that while qing3 WEN4 is "please to ask" [may I please ask you a question], qing3 WEN3 means "may I please KISS [you]" and qing3 WEN2 means "may I please SMELL [you]" -- so you need to get the tone right for WEN4, to ask!

Hardy har har --

Mispronouncing Mandarin...

From here, we went around the room and everyone had a chance to say one or more lines of Mandarin from the dialogue as a sort of "check" to make sure that everyone's pronunciation was moving in the right direction. For the most part, everyone did great -- good job.

For those of you with crappy pronunciation, don't worry -- BUT MAKE SURE THAT YOU ADMIT TO YOURSELF THAT YOUR PRONUNCIATION CURRENTLY SUCKS.

This is very important; you need to be VERY HONEST with yourself without getting emotional about your current crappy pronunciation. You do need to recognize that you are not currently getting it right -- and in some cases, some of you are really botching things up. This is fine at this early stage.

It is very important that you DO NOT develop a "good enough" attitude at any point during your learning process. If your pronunciation and/or tones suck, you NEED to be honest with yourself, recognize this about yourself, do NOT make it emotional at all, and just make a pact with yourself, a promise to yourself that you will continue to make weekly efforts to improve until you no longer need to improve -- until your pronunciation and tones will be consistently understood my native speakers without them craning their necks or raising an eyebrow.

Don't worry; if learning to speak Mandarin Chinese is really important to you, you WILL get it -- because what is the alternative? That you go through the rest of your life sucking at this, speaking really shitty Mandarin? I don't think so. If this means anything to you, you WILL get it right. But you need to never EVER become complacent about your studies, and you need to never EVER adopt a "good enough for rock and roll" philosophy when it comes to your Mandarin pronunciation and tones.

Following our going around the class, we broke up into "happy happy groups," as I jokingly refer to them, and Esther and I walked around for the next 15-20 minutes correcting pairs and trios, answering questions as they arose. I was very pleased with what I saw and heard. Good job, everyone!

For the final 5-10 minutes of class, we began the grammar points on pages 22 and 23, which is where we will pick up next time.


For your insights this week, I am going to paste something I just typed for my Cantonese I class and change the references from Cantonese to Mandarin:

It is so, so, SO important to remember the subtle pronunciation and tones issues that we have been covering and reviewing over and over again. There is a reason I have been reviewing this stuff and really beating these concerns into the ground this year. Of course, for those of you actually reading this blog on a weekly basis, I am going to assume that you realize, based on the subtitle of this blog as well as some of my early diatribes in both the Cantonese I and Mandarin I sections, that my entire focus this year will be on the correct PRONUNCIATION of Cantonese and Mandarin at the most basic level for our beginner students.

You must must MUST do whatever you need to do to get past "the hump" in your learning process as quickly as possible where you are worried "whether you are saying that right," so you can move on and begin memorizing lots of vocabulary with some sense of confidence that you can pronounce that vocabulary in a way that a real native Mandarin speaker will understand what the hell you are trying to say.

You MUST get past this hump, no matter what it takes, so that you can turn your attention and any emotional energy you are investing in your new hobby or interest of learning Mandarin Chinese from the most basic worry about pronunciation and tones to the next step, which is simply learning as many vocabulary words as possible from our lessons and on your own, so that along with the basic sentence structures you are beginning to learn in class, you can start to substitute new words in and out of the sentences you are learning to express new thoughts, concepts, questions and answers.

THIS is the basis of the initial acquisition of a BASIC CONVERSATIONAL ABILITY in Mandarin Chinese.

We will talk more about this is class next time, and going forward whenever the mood strikes...


Your homework for next Monday is to LISTEN TO THE MP3s available for Lesson 1 Dialogue 1 and vocabulary from my earlier blog entry. Focus on the correct pronunciation and tone for each syllable of each word. If you can already pronounce the current lesson's words accurately enough within THE SHEET / SHIT WINDOW OF INTELLIGIBILITY, then you can skip this step.

Absolutely watch, rewatch, AND REWATCH the video for Lesson 1 Dialogue 1 that you all should have downloaded weeks ago from my previous blog entry. Besides noticing the insane number of pencils that Li3 You3 drops on the ground when she meets Wang2 Peng2, pay special attention to the correct pronunciation and tone for each syllable of each word that is spoken. Notice the pitch contours of each sentence

If you are struggling with your tones, you can practice a trick I just shared with my Cantonese class -- very helpful for them since they have 2 more tones spread out over a larger vocal range to worry about from the start, compared to the 4 basic tones of Mandarin over a smaller vocal range that you all are learning right now:

Every sentence that you are learning in Mandarin can be approached in 2 ways when you are studying and memorizing vocabulary and grammar:
  1. You can study and learn to read aloud the actual words, with each syllable's actual pronunciation and tone, over the duration of any one sentence; OR
  2. You can substitute an "aah" syllable or any other basic vowel syllable of your choice (perhaps even one you are having trouble with, such as the famous IAO), and you can "sing" each sentence on that vowel, simply focusing on getting the TONAL CONTOUR correct from start to finish.
I highly, highly recommend that ALL of you try the second method of study and practice in reading aloud from the book, which will significantly refine your accuracy in reading and pronouncing pinyin romanized Mandarin while getting your tones right.  

Once you "get" the tones (once you "own" them and understand them at a DEEPER level than simply some abstract system numbered from 1 to 4 plus this "thing" called a neutral tone), you will have an INTERNAL MEMORY of the sound and "vibe" of each tone for your personal speaking voice for the rest of your life -- or at least for the rest of the time that you decide to study Mandarin Chinese.


Cantonese I Class Summary, Insights, Homework Monday, November 13, 2017

Hi Gang,

Sorry for my delay in typing this past Monday night's class's blog entry. I performed in public for the first time in 8 or 10 years during a 2 minute gospel vocal section of a larger 35 minute long piece of new (classical) music last night, and I was a bit preoccupied with rehearsing for that last week during my free time that I might have otherwise spent typing this blog entry. Thanks for everyone's patience.

Let's review what we covered during our last class:


After reviewing the Vocabulary for lesson 1 on page 30 of your textbook, followed by lesson 1's dialogue's Recapitulation on page 3, I gave you guys a chance to break up into small groups and practice the very simple dialogue with  each other as a review of the material that we covered during our previous class.

A few students, including Joseph, had some very good questions related to pronunciation and tones, and we spent a bit of time clarifying certain syllables and discussing several hints / methods for practicing tones, including "singing" the tones on an "ah" syllable of phone numbers that you might see on subway billboards, etc. (at least the numbers 1-6 within whatever phone number you might be looking at, skipping 0 and 7-9). I also mentioned memorizing certain example vocabulary words that highlight the contrasting sounds between pairs or series of tones, such as words that have both a 2 and a 5 in them, so you can learn to distinguish the subtle difference between the "feel" of a mid rising tone and a low rising tone. Other example words we discussed contrasted the 1 tone vs. the 4 or 6 tone, to help cement the sound and "feel" of a high level tone with a low level or low falling tone, to help you get comfortable with the "feel" of the top part of your vocal register that you will be using to speak the 1 tone in Cantonese vs. the "feel" of the lower part of your vocal register that you will use for 4 and 6 tones.

I hope that everyone found these hints helpful. I explained how I came to my Cantonese studies during/right after several years of intensive sightsinging classes here in NYC, so I learned the 6 tones of Cantonese that we are teaching at ALESN (minus the high falling tone, which I added later on) with a musician's ear towards the subtleties between pitch levels and level vs. rising or falling intonations. Most people are NOT coming from this approach, but I explained how this helped me to cement the sound AND FEEL of my tones for my own voice and my own "inner ear."

This allowed me to get past the initial, perhaps boring, "bullshit" phase of learning Chinese rather quickly (the very first "from scratch" phase where I was obsessively concerned simply with "whether I got that right," or "whether I pronounced that right" in the first place) -- so I could turn my attention to grammar and sentence structures and learning lots of vocabulary. My hope for all of you is that you can each figure out what works best for your own learning approach, so that you can also quickly get past obsessing over pronunciation and move on to the much more interesting (and rewarding) secondary initial phase of beginning to learn vocabulary, grammar, and word order.

After reviewing lesson 1's dialogue and discussing strategies for improving pronunciation and tones, we turned  to lesson 2's vocabulary on pages 54 and 55. Even though there appear to be 31 new words to memorize, I broke them down for everyone and showed that there are really only maybe 23 new concepts to learn, with some repeating word endings, etc., making a total of 31 new vocabulary items. This will make these new words easier to learn for those of you who followed my explanation in class.

We will review this idea during our next class as well -- how to streamline your learning process for new vocabulary words by breaking them down and recognizing patterns, such as the pattern that we saw with the use of the word YAHN4 for person when describing someone's nationality. In English, we say "AmericAN" or "BritISH" or SenegalESE," but in Chinese (regardless of the dialect), you just give the name of the country and then add YAHN4 afterwards: "America PERSON" or "England PERSON" or "Senegal PERSON."

We then turned to the dialogue. We approached the Build-Up on page 32 and I don't recall finishing this (I haven't had time to listen to the recording I made of class, so I apologize if I am not remembering this properly -- busy week for me last week). I feel like we left off without properly finishing this dialogue's Build-Up, so this is where we will start next time.


In the interest of time, because I also have to type a Mandarin I blog entry today, I don't really have many insights today. Just that it is so, so, SO important to remember the subtle pronunciation and tones issues that we have been covering and reviewing over and over again. There is a reason I have been reviewing this stuff and really beating these concerns into the ground this year. Of course, for those of you actually reading this blog on a weekly basis, I am going to assume that you realize based on the subtitle of this blog as well as some of my early diatribes in both the Cantonese I and Mandarin I sections that my entire focus this year will be on the correct PRONUNCIATION of Cantonese and Mandarin at the most basic level for our beginner students.

You must must MUST do whatever you need to do to get past "the hump" in your learning process as quickly as possible where you are worried "whether you are saying that right," so you can move on and begin memorizing lots of vocabulary with some sense of confidence that you can pronounce that vocabulary in a way that a real native Cantonese speaker will understand what the hell you are trying to say.

You MUST get past this hump, no matter what it takes, so that you can turn your attention and any emotional energy you are investing in your new hobby or interest of learning Cantonese Chinese from the most basic worry about pronunciation and tones to the next step, which is simply learning as many vocabulary words as possible from our lessons and on your own, so that along with the basic sentence structures you are beginning to learn in class, you can start to substitute new words in and out of the sentences you are learning to express new thoughts, concepts, questions and answers.

THIS is the basis of the initial acquisition of a BASIC CONVERSATIONAL ABILITY in Cantonese.

We will talk more about this is class next time, and going forward whenever the mood strikes...


Your homework for next Monday is to LISTEN TO THE MP3 that accompanies Lesson 2, focusing on the Build-Up and Recapitulation of the dialogue at the beginning of the mp3, as well as the correct pronunciation of the vocabulary words at the end of the mp3 (I believe; it has been a long time since I have listened to the mp3s for this book -- someone please let me know if the vocabulary words are read aloud earlier during the recording instead of at the very end, following the chronological order of the text in the book).

In addition to paying attention to the pronunciation and tones of individual syllables, please also begin to pay attention to the interplay of tones as they function in real time, from syllable to syllable within any one sentence, creating a PITCH CONTOUR as the tones "bounce" from one to the next, on and on from the beginning to the end of each phrase or sentence.

We will talk more about observing and studying THIS in future classes.

Every sentence that you are learning in Cantonese can be approached 2 ways when you are studying and memorizing vocabulary and grammar:
  1. You can study and learn to read aloud the actual words, with each syllable's actual pronunciation and tone, over the duration of any one sentence; OR
  2. You can substitute an "aah" syllable or any other basic vowel syllable of your choice (perhaps even one you are having trouble with, such as the famous EUI), and you can "sing" each sentence on a vowel, simply focusing on getting the TONAL CONTOUR correct from start to finish.
I highly, highly recommend that ALL of you try the second method of study and practice in reading aloud from the book, which will significantly refine your accuracy in reading and pronouncing Yale romanized Cantonese while getting your tones right. Once you "get" the tones (once you "own" them and understand them at a DEEPER level than simply some abstract system numbered from 1 to 6), you will have an INTERNAL MEMORY of the sound and "vibe" of each tone for your personal speaking voice for the rest of your life -- or at least for the rest of the time that you decide to study Cantonese.

As a fun addition to your Cantonese studies from now on , I am going to start assigning weekly or every-so-often videos by my Hong Kong friend Cecilie Gamst Berg from her Cantocourse Youtube channel.

Here is your first viewing assignment, an absolute beginner video teaching the vocabulary words YAUH5 and MOUH5 (to have and to not have):